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Published: January 21, 2022

UT Undergrad Researchers Head to Tallahassee to Present Findings to Legislators

Four undergraduate UT researchers headed to Tallahassee this week to present their findings to legislators, as well as to other college students from around the state, in the second annual Florida Undergraduate Research Posters at the Capitol, held Jan. 20, 2022. The goal is to encourage the visibility and viability of undergraduate research, while also providing high-achieving students a space to engage directly in the political process.

Student interviewing a gymnast on cameraSteven Nye ’22, who is producing a documentary on the decline of men’s collegiate gymnastics, said the research work he’s done at UT has allowed him access to opportunities such as attending the U.S. Olympic trials last summer where he interviewed retired American gymnast and three-time Olympian John Roethlisberger. Photo courtesy of Steven Nye ’22

“Undergraduate Research Posters at the Capitol provides our students a chance to talk about their research to legislators, staffers, aides and lobbyists, which is a diverse audience that one wouldn’t typically encounter at an academic conference,” said Eric Freundt, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry and associate professor of biology. “It’s a great opportunity to strengthen [students’] communication skills.” 

Those attending from UT were Steven Nye ’22, Pamela Font ’22, Ethan Vallebuona ’23 and Emily Friden ’22, all Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) recipients. The UT SURF grant supports students and faculty engaged in a mentored, intensive research project over the summer.

Nye, a film and media arts major originally from Minneapolis, MN, is conducting ongoing research in the creation of a feature-length documentary on a gymnast’s development in the sport, as well as the decline of men’s collegiate gymnastics over the last 50 years. His interest and initial work on the documentary began six years prior, and since the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research last summer, Nye has been working alongside Christopher Boulton, associate professor of communication.

“This research has allowed me to be in positions that I didn’t really think I was going to be in,” said Nye, who was able to attend the U.S. Olympic trials last June to interview and film competitors. “There are several opportunities to present our research beyond UT. I’m really looking forward to the networking opportunities [at the Posters the Capitol event].”

Font, a psychology major and biology minor from the Dominican Republic, conducted research with associate professor of psychology Erica Yuen, on methods to reduce stress in college students through a study that compared a two-week, peer-delivered mindfulness meditation with an adult coloring exercise and a control group that just received general stress reduction tips.

Her findings showed that not one intervention was better than the other at reducing stress. However after conducting her research, Font found herself incorporating some of the general stress reduction tips into her own daily routines, like yoga and journaling.

Portrait of Pamela Font ’22Pamela Font ’22 conducted research on methods to reduce stress in college students. Photo courtesy of Pamela Font ’22

“I’m looking forward to speaking to the general public about my research findings because it is important that we all learn and find alternative methods to reduce stress among college students since college students are one of the most stressed populations,” said Font. “I hope that individuals walk out of this event with new knowledge and apply these interventions into their lives as they seem fit.”

Vallebuona, a biochemistry major originally from New York, NY, worked with Pavan Rajanahalli, assistant professor of biology, to develop a new method of isolating human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cord tissue. They said this research aims to successfully isolate stem cells directly out of cord tissue into a 3D microenvironment using a biologically compatible material called a hydrogel as a scaffold to mimic physiologically relevant conditions compared to traditional methods in 2D on a plastic dish, which doesn’t accurately mimic how stem cells grow in the human body.

Student doing chemical testsEthan Vallebuona ’23 researched medical applications to possibly treat patients with chronic inflammatory-related disorders such as Type 2 diabetes or multiple sclerosis. Photo courtesy of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry

They hope to achieve the isolation of the 3D stem cells for the eventual consideration of medical applications to possibly treat patients with chronic inflammatory-related disorders such as Type 2 diabetes or multiple sclerosis.

“I firmly believe that the most important part of scientific research is the ability to make others comprehend and appreciate the work you have done,” said Vallebuona. “This is an important goal of mine I hope to develop at this event and will eventually contribute to my success in my future contributions to the field of molecular biology and biochemistry.”

Friden, a marine science-chemistry major from Rochester, NY, conducted her research with associate professor of chemistry Robert Masserini, which focused on red tide and ammonium enrichment in Tampa Bay. More about Friden’s work can be read here, "UT Senior Studies Red Tide."   

The UT group met with Sen. Janet Cruz and Rep. Jackie Toledo, both who represent the 18th district where The University of Tampa is located, as well as UT alum, Rep. Andrew Learned ’09.

“Research involves a systematic process of exploring  the world around us through collection and analysis of evidence,” the Posters at the Capitol program states. “Students who engage in research and scholarly activities often change  the way we see  the world and improve lives through  their discoveries and creative products.”

Story by Kayla Lupedee '22, journalism major and writing minor


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